Teachers' Blog

Hiking club CAI SIENA

I recently had the chance to go on a hike with local hiking club CAI SIENA (for more info:www.caisiena.it/) It was a beautiful autumnal Sunday, perfect for a hike!  We drove from Siena to the Province of Arezzo (still here the region of Tuscany, but near the border of Emilia-Romagna).

Along the ridge of the Apennine Mountains, the area has a lot to explore including its nature, landscape, as well as its artistic and religious heritage.  The main destination of our hike was the Franciscan Sanctuary of La Verna (altitude 1128 meters) (for more info: https://www.laverna.it/en/)

Along the way we saw some beautiful views, hillsides, and wildflowers, including some wild cyclamen!

To reach the Sanctuary, we hiked through beautiful woods and across the mountaintop meadows of the panoramic Monte Calvano (altitude 1254 meters).

We then hiked along the famous "Sentiero Frassati", through the splendid and magical beech forest of the "Bosco delle Fate" (Forest of the Fairies).

Our trail then brought us up to the vertical cliff on which the great complex of La Verna was built.

It is said that this craggy summit was once the site of an ancient pagan temple to the goddess Laverna.  It became a favorite retreat for Saint Francis of Assisi and during his lifetime some small cells were built there as well as the small church of Santa Maria degli Angeli (built between 1216–18).  

Many followers of Francis still make pilgrimages to the site today, often leaving a sign of the cross carved into the mossy rocks of the mountain-side.

The main church that we see today was built over a century after Francis's death in 1226.  The church construction was begun begun in 1348 but not finished until 1459.

It houses some beautiful glazed ceramic bas-relief sculptures by Renaissance artist Andrea Della Robbia (1435-1525.)

La Verna still has an active community of Franciscan monks today.  Since it is said that Saint Francis of Assisi received his stigmata at this place, a special procession is held to honor this historic event, and we were lucky enough to see this procession during our visit!

There is a hallway for the monks' procession, connecting the main church to the Chapel of the Stigmata:

If you have the chance to travel through this region, La Verna is definitely worth a stop.  No matter what your religious beliefs are, you can't help but find this mountain-top sanctuary with its surrounding mountains and forests to be a place that inspires contemplation and wonder at the majesty of the natural world.

Lisa Nonken

Academic Director and Professor of Visual Arts

Siena Art Institute & Siena School for Liberal Arts